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The Titanium Backone

Doug Henry, professional motorcycle racer, was 25 when he had his second major dirt bike accident. This time he was at Budds Creek, Maryland, attempting a spectacular jump during a Supercross Race, and broke his back. When his dirt bike flew 75 feet in the air, his L1 vertebrae (located in the lumbar region of his lower back) burst, causing spinal cord compression. Miraculously, Henry retained full movement in his legs, but the situation was dire.

Charles Riedel, MD - Neurological Surgery
Charles J. Riedel

During anterior spinal reconstructive surgery, neurosurgeon
Charles J. Riedel, MD took a route through Henry’s chest and behind the abdomen to remove the L1 vertebrae and rebuild the area with scaffolding. The L1 bone, which had shattered, needed to be removed quickly and meticulously to keep bone fragments from damaging the spinal cord.

“In place of that vertebrae, we then placed a titanium mesh cage, which we filled with grafted bone so it would grow and replace what used to be there,” Dr. Riedel explains. A plate insert anchoring the adjacent vertebrae in his middle and lower back held the spine stable while the bone healed.

“We told Doug he could never ride a motorcycle again and put him in a back brace,” Dr. Riedel recalls, “But by his two-month post-op visit, he came in covered in grease because he had been driving a bulldozer. He stayed off his cycle for a year, but eventually went out and won the national championship for dirt bikes. He’s in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as well as a Nintendo game now.”

Anterior spinal reconstructive surgery is also used to repair damage created by tumors, as well as infections caused by tuberculosis, high-risk diabetes, IV drug use and immunosuppressant drugs. “It’s an aggressive approach used to prevent chronic pain and neurological deficit,” says Dr. Riedel, who has performed some 200 anterior spinal reconstructive surgeries in his career.

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